Wonder Woman (2017)
Power. Grace. Wisdom. Wonder.
I can barely contain my excitement. At long last, the raven-haired yielder of the golden Lasso of Truth has finally gotten her own motion picture! In development limbo for 20 odd years — since 1996, when Ivan Reitman was set to write and direct — it seemed as though a Wonder Woman film would never see the light of day. We were teased again in 2005, when Joss Whedon was attached as writer-director, the 52-year-old filmmaker, known for crafting well-rounded, strong female characters, abandoning the project shortly after, this drop-out due to ‘apparent’ creative differences. And the same thing happened in 2014/15, when Michelle MacLaren was confirmed as director then quickly jumped ship. So, you can understand my clamor and clutter, having just witnessed a standalone Wonder Woman feature, the star-spangled pant-wearing Wondy being my favorite comic book character growing up — I was always more of a DC guy.
The first female-centered superhero romp in twelve years — the last being 2005’s Elektra, which bombed at the box office — Wonder Woman, the 4th movie in the DCEU, sees the iconic Amazon Warrior follow-up her eruptive debut in the critically wounded Batman v Superman (2016), Gal Gadot’s stormy portrayal of Princess Diana standing as one of the film’s crowning jewels. Flaunting her innate charisma, grace and battle prowess, Dawn of Justice also gave the Israeli-born actress a chance to prove all those naysayers wrong, who’d previously complained that the former Fast and Furious bombshell was ‘too skinny,’ nor a ‘bankable’ enough star, to don the magic bracelets and royal tiara. But boy, oh boy, were they ever wrong, as Gal Gadot is the right person for the job, giving us the Wonder Woman we’ve all been waiting for.
Set in the ever-expanding DC Extended Universe, this solo origin adventure opens on the island paradise of Themyscira, a mystical utopia isolated from the world of man, this tropical haven home to an ancient Greco-Roman-like civilization of warrior women known as the Amazons. Sculpted from clay, we meet an 8-year-old Princess Diana (played by Lilly Aspell), daughter of Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), who, as a child, learns of her people’s true purpose. Gifted with immense physical strength, wisdom, natural beauty and highly acute senses, this tribe of ‘superwomen’ spend their days perfecting their skills in combat, this in order to prepare for an impending confrontation with Ares, God of War, the evil-doer hell-bent on thrusting Earth into an eternal feud, having been banished from Mount Olympus by his father, the immortal Zeus (maker of mankind), for his malice and wicked intentions — this backstory presented to patrons via some beautifully realized Renaissance-type artwork. Training in secret with General Antiope (Robin Wright), sister of the Amazonian queen, Diana, though royalty, excels in the art, mastering archery, hand-to-hand and sword fighting, the young monarch showing real signs of promise.
Some years later (round about 1918), a grown-up Diana (Gal Gadot), now accepted as a soldier by the noble Hippolyta, rescues World War I American fighter pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) from drowning when his plane crash-lands in the crystal clear, turquoise waters of their hidden oasis. Following a devastating clash on the sandy shores against a battalion of armed German forces, who’d tailed the U.S. fugitive into the idyllic hideaway — this sequence showcasing some stunning CGI stunt work — a desperate Steve (who happens to be the first male to ever step foot on the maiden populated metropolis) informs the all-female residents of his undercover assignment, having previously stolen a notebook from the infamous ‘Dr. Poison’ (Elena Anaya), a notorious chemist developing a mysterious and lethal air-born weapon under the guidance of General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston), a cruel and callous German military official.
Learning of the war beyond their walls, Diana is compelled to aid Steve on his mission, our heroine convinced that Ares were responsible for the horror and devastation in the outside world, and that ending his life — with the God-Killer, a sword bestowed to the warriors by their Olympus-bound father — would cease all the conflict. Now, en route to a smog-covered England, our two protagonists set off to save the humanity, Diana determined to forge her own path, defending what she believes to be moral and just, this journey forever changing her life and the course of the known world.
With director Patty Jenkins, Monster (2003) — the first lady to helm a female-led superhero flick — claiming that Wonder Woman was the project she’d been ‘wanting to do her entire life,’ it’s no surprise to find the outcome is nothing short of spectacular, the movie a bona fide knockout, proceedings mixing high-stakes blockbuster action with genuine humor and heart. Setting a new benchmark for the superhero genre, Wonder Woman signals the triumphant return of DC’s cinematic arm, the Warner Bros. owned studio (debuting their cool new logo in front of the flick) trying desperately hard to course-correct over the past year or so, with each of their properties (thus far) panned by a majority of critics; Wonder Woman, however, has what it takes to ‘wow’ the toughest of cynics, the feature a honest-to-goodness charmer and easily the best movie in DC’s current cinematic slate.
Finding that perfect middle-ground between the broodiness of past DC outings and the jokiness of Marvel, Wonder Woman nails its tone and, while certainly part of the interconnected DC Universe, marches to the beat of its own drum. Written by first-time feature-film scribe Allan Heinberg — based on a story by Heinberg, DCEU architect Zack Snyder and Jason Fuchs — Wonder Woman powers along in an exhilarating fashion, the narrative balancing wit, action and drama, and the plot remaining grounded and relatively straightforward throughout, goings-on (thankfully) not littered with annoying Easter eggs and ‘commercials’ for upcoming flicks — I’m looking at you, Kevin Feige. Heck, there are no post credit scenes either (so, don’t bother sitting through 10 minutes of scrolling text unless you want to) or ‘mandatory’ cameo by Miss World America 1972, Lynda Carter, better known for portraying Diana Prince in the campy small-screen Wonder Woman TV series. What’s more, filmmakers have also chosen to knock the action down a peg (or two), and bar a CGI-laden titan-on-titan finale, most of the fight sequences are clear and uncomplicated, the movie’s quieter moments some of its most endearing.
As far as action set pieces go, a scene that sees the Amazing Amazon charge fearlessly into battle is both thrilling and intense, Diana (who’s literally a one-woman-army) darting out of the trenches, head-first, and straight into enemy fire, deflecting bullets with her armlets, tearing through troops and hurling around tanks in the hope of freeing a war-ravaged village. The third-act clash is also a winner, with the ‘human’ villains, officer Ludendorff and his scientist comrade, Dr. Isabel Maru — played excellently by Danny Huston, X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), and Spanish actress Elena Anaya, Van Helsing (2004) — instilling the drama with a sense of realism, the threat here much more relatable, even if these baddies are slightly one-note — so, no interdimensional entities or planet devouring globs as adversaries! Sure, the eleventh-hour arrival of a fire-and-brimstone-type antagonist may be too VFX loaded for some, but c’mon, the Goddess of Truth kinda needs a worthy, all-powerful foe to lock horns with, this climax confirming that Wonder Woman has what it takes to play in the big-leagues, alongside the heavyweights of the DCEU. It’s interesting to note, though, that war, and all of its atrocities, emerge as the film’s real ‘big bad.’
Wonderfully shot by cinematographer Matthew Jensen, Chronicle (2012), Wonder Woman jumps from stunning sun-drenched glows (when in the celestial city of Themyscira) to cold, hard concrete hues and fiery reds, the flick primarily set against a grim World War I backdrop. Moreover, the production design by Aline Bonetto, Pan (2015), is equally as stirring, the vistas displaying stark war-torn terrain and WWI-era cityscapes, along with grand and exotic architecture inspired by the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, these visuals exceedingly stylish and bold. Oh, and keep your ears peeled for the thunderous return of the electric cello-fueled Wonder Woman theme, composer Rupert Gregson-Williams, Hacksaw Ridge (2016), incorporating the Junkie XL/Hans Zimmer tune (titled ‘Is She With You?’) into his worthy score.
Over on the acting front, Gal Gadot injects the titular demigoddess with ferocity, compassion, vulnerability and might, this Wonder Gal painted with broad emotional strokes, the 32-year-old Gadot vanquishing all doubts and reservations (concerning casting) whilst truly making the character her own — besides, she looks totally kick-ass in the red, blue and gold. Furthermore, a lot of the film’s laughs stem from the amusing fish-out-of-water set-up, the sheltered Princess Diana (her name eventually shortened to ‘Diana Prince’ as to blend into the wider community) having never stepped off her secluded paradisiacal abode, Gadot demonstrating her instinctive knack for comedy — I knew she could handle the stunts and swordplay, Gal a former Israel Defense Forces combat trainer, but acing the humor, too! Is there anything this woman can’t do? Likewise, co-star Chris Pine, Star Trek (2009), is strapping as rough and roguish U.S. spy Captain Steve Trevor, the 36-year-old Pine imbuing the character with a subtle sense of sadness, his sweet (and sometimes awkward) chemistry with the righteous, wide-eyed Diana one of the picture’s biggest virtues, her optimism and innocence winning the smitten soldier over almost immediately.
Never buckling under pressure, the support cast also manage to shine. Saïd Taghmaoui, American Hustle (2013), stands out as master-of-disguise Sameer (who’s also a skilled linguist), as does Ewen Bremner, Trainspotting (1996), as Charlie, a shell-shocked marksman-for-hire (who happens to be a bit of a drunk), these guys both allies of Trevor’s and part of a larger team, one that’s assisting Diana and Steve on their perilous quest. Elsewhere, Lucy Davis, Shaun of the Dead (2004), is a hoot in her handful of scenes as Etta Candy, Steve’s loyal secretary and the first female Diana befriends that doesn’t hail from her world, Miss Candy attempting to give Diana a makeover almost right away. Lastly, David Thewlis, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), adds gravitas to his role as Sir Patrick Morgan, a chief speaker for peace on the Imperial War Cabinet, these bit players invaluable assets to our heroine’s crusade.
Quite frankly, everybody involved should really be commended, filmmakers doing a bang-up job in bringing this classic DC character — created by William Moulton Marston some 75 years ago — to the silver screen; although, it really should’ve happened sooner, especially given that Marvel’s had 15 movies and counting (with a 16th and 17th still on the way this year), none of which sport a leading lady. Why haven’t we been treated to a female-fronted superhero film yet? Spider-Woman. Thundra. Wasp. Ms. Marvel. Watching any of these bitchin’ babes up on the big screen would totally rock. Perhaps the male-dominant studio system is still frightened to give women heroic-type franchises to shoulder, these ‘girl-power’ movies, in the past, struggling to find an audience (or make a killing, financially).
If anything, Patty Jenkins’ daring and satisfying Wonder Woman marks the beginning of change, Diana a sterling symbol of strength for women everywhere and the film’s story and themes universal, Wonder Woman feeling more like a modern-day feminist fable than a silly ‘comic book’ epic, the picture one that both genders can enjoy. Let’s just hope that moviegoers turn out to this one in droves. Either way, I’m psyched for Joss Whedon’s Batgirl!
4 / 5 – Recommended
Reviewed by S-Littner